Red Sea at Noon

This week’s flash fiction challenge is courtesy of Chuck Wendig.  I had 1,000 words to incorporate the following: Weird Tales, Besieged by the enemy!, Beneath the Sea, An Ancient Curse.  Enjoy!

 

 

“Captain, there’s something that demands your attention.”  The young seaman saluted neatly as he waited for his captain’s response.

 

“Can’t someone else deal with it?”  The Captain didn’t even look up from the stack of papers that filled her small desk.

 

“No ma’am.  The Bridge requested you specifically.”

 

Captain Mariana sighed and rose from the hard metal chair.  “Alright, lead on sailor.”

 

It took longer than Seaman Anderson would have liked to maneuver through the tight passageways that led from the Captain’s office to the Bridge.  Even after two months on board, the confined nature of the sub still left him feeling claustrophobic and it was with a sigh of relief that he finally emerged into the relative expanse of the Bridge.

 

“Captain on Deck!”  Everyone within the room stood with a clamber and saluted, an action which the Captain waved aside with one hand.

 

“So, what was so important that you had to send a dog to drag me away from my paperwork?”

 

Anderson’s mouth dropped, but he said nothing.

 

“This, ma’am.”  The Lieutenant in command said with a wave towards one of the small portholes.  “We just entered the Triangle an hour ago.  I fear we’re going to have to place our search and rescue plans on hold.”  Anderson didn’t have to move from his spot to ascertain what had caught the crew’s attention – an eerie red glow seemed to be pulsing through the porthole.

 

“Red sky at night; sailor’s delight.  Red in the morning; sailor’s warning.”  Captain Mariana muttered to herself as she stared through the porthole.

 

“Respectfully, ma’am, then what does a red sea at noon signify?”  The crew turned to stare, mouths agape, at Anderson’s insubordination, but the Captain merely smiled.

 

“It means war, Seaman.”

 

Although nobody laughed, Anderson knew that this must be some kind of ritual hazing of the new crew.  Frankly, he had expected something like this weeks ago.  “War against whom, ma’am?  The mermaids?”

 

When the Captain whirled to face him, Anderson knew he had said something wrong.  “What do you know about such things?”

 

“Only what I’ve seen in Disney films, ma’am.”  Surely this was part of the hazing, although the Captain might be taking it a bit too far.  “You know, the one where they sing all the time, except for the one who has to give up her voice to find true love?”

 

The Captain laughed and motioned Anderson towards the porthole.  “Is that what you think you see outside?”

 

 

“But when the Seaman looked through the porthole, all he saw were horrible green-skinned merfolk with sharp teeth, holding spears that glowed red and gold.  The sub’s torpedoes could not slow them and they swarmed the submarine in mere moments, spears able to pierce even the thickest of steel.”

 

The Cruise Director stopped and regarded his shivering audience of youngsters with satisfaction.  Horror Hour was almost complete, and he would need to hustle to make it to the costume competition on the Lido Deck, but he took the time to enjoy the terrified noises of his young audience.

 

“But if they destroyed the sub, how do you know what happened?”  One of the older ones asked, clearly feigning bravery for his younger sister.

 

The Director turned on the glowing prop that he had been holding behind his back and brandished it towards the boy.  “Because I was one of the ones on the attack!”  He shouted with a malicious laugh.

 

The room soon emptied and the Director chuckled to himself as he walked along the deck towards his next obligation.  Children were so gullible, he almost couldn’t stand it.  He had to admit that the cruise company’s idea to run a Halloween cruise over the cursed Bermuda Triangle had been brilliant – half of the passengers were already on edge and easier than usual to scare.

 

“Red sea at noon, indeed.”  He muttered to himself as he climbed the metal stairs up to the next deck.

 

If he had bothered to pay attention or look down, he might have heard the enemy crawling slowly up the side of the boat or seen the red glow underneath the ship in time to sound the alarm.

Blind to her Beauty

This week’s flash fiction challenge: “Fairy Tale Upgrade” is courtesy of Chuck Wendig.  I hope you will enjoy my modern-ish version of the Ugly Duckling.

 

 

The orphans lined up along the street, begging for food like they did every morning.  It was Sunday, and the few churchgoers had been only slightly more generous than on any other day.

 

Cici looked down at the small pile of coins in her hand.  It might be enough.  Enough to buy something warm to eat and maybe even something to save for later.  It was never enough to buy everything: a safe home, a warm bed, enough food to fill her, and someone to look out for her.

 

Still, she had learned to get by on only a little.  There wasn’t much else that a girl with her looks could hope for.

 

It was still hard sometimes.  Especially in the winter, when the bitter winds blew across the land.  The crawl spaces under wooden porches were her favorite shelters – they were sheltered from the snow and the wind, and whatever piled up on top of the porch only helped to keep her warmer.  It wasn’t glamorous, but it kept her alive.  The Jones were the nicest folk she had found.  Either they didn’t mind her sleeping underneath their deck every night or they didn’t notice.  Both suited Cici just fine.

 

It wasn’t winter yet, though.  She could feel it in the air: a nip in the breeze that blew across the flatlands.  And her only blanket was worn and tearing.  Cici would have to find another, somehow.

 

It would be hard to get the money that she needed by begging.  There was always theft, but that always made Cici feel a little more ashamed of herself.  What would her sisters think of her waltzing into the general store and hiding a blanket underneath her skirt?  Not that they likely thought of her, but the thought still managed to stop her cold.  It seemed like she would always be trying to model proper behavior for sisters she hadn’t seen in two years.

 

Not that they would have listened to her anyway.  It had been painfully obvious to everyone that Cici wasn’t the prize of the bunch.  Far from it: she had a long nose that might have been better suited on a hound and her hair was thin and lank and dark, certainly not the golden curls that her mother had so praised in her sisters.  Her teeth were uneven and yellow, and her hips were too thin.  Most young men at home had looked away and whispered to each other when she passed.  It had taken her years to figure out why.

 

It was the same reason her begging results weren’t as good as some of the others’.  Cici was ugly, there was no getting around it.

 

When she had been little and still only homely, her mother used to tell her and her baby sisters stories.  They always ended the same way: the prince saved the princess and they lived happily ever after.  “There’s a prince out there for all of you, duckies,” she would say as they drifted off to sleep.

 

Cici had once thought that her prince would find her someday, but as she aged, she had come to the sad realization that it was not to be.  She would be alone, until the day the Jones’ porch didn’t provide enough shelter to get her through a winter.

 

Most days she was okay with that.  Today, though, it only made her sadder, as she slunk through the door into the tavern.  There was a pot of something delicious smelling on the fire, but she headed straight for the bar for two loaves of yesterday’s bread.  It didn’t smell or taste as good, but the price was right.

 

The tavern was unusually busy, so she lingered near the fire for as long as she could before the innkeeper’s wife ran her off.  There were no free tables, but she didn’t much care: near the fire was by far the warmest place in the room.  Most of the clientele seemed to be from another state, perhaps drawn here by the promise of a busy harvest.  Cici didn’t pay attention to the farms, only to the weather and the sheriff’s rules.  Growing things didn’t interest her.

 

Singing, though, did and she softly joined in on the tune that filled the room.  It was a pretty song, though she didn’t know all the words.  Instead, Cici made up her own.  Whispered at first they grew louder as she got the hang of the tune.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before someone noticed the girl singing a drinking song.

 

“Hey, you by the fire.  The one with the beautiful voice.  C’mere.”

 

A boy.  He was maybe two years older than her and seemed harmless enough, with a soft wavering gaze.  At least he wasn’t staring at her budding breasts.  Cici debated for a minute but finally joined him at his table.  If she was lucky, she might wheedle a coin or two from him for another song.  “Yes, sir?”

 

“That was beautiful.  Do you sing often?”

 

“Whenever I can.  It’s hard when I’m not in the right mood though.”

 

“Your husband must love it when you sing his babies to sleep.”

 

Cici flushed.  “Oh, I’m not married.”

 

“A beautiful woman like yourself?  I find that hard to believe.”

 

“I’m just a girl, sir, and far from beautiful.”

 

“I find that very hard to believe.”

 

“Can’t you see for yourself?”

 

“No…”  His hands reached towards her, fumbling against her shoulders and sliding up her neck to her face.  The questing hands felt her chin, her forehead, and her nose and finally came to rest on either cheek.  “To the contrary.  With a voice like that and a soul to match, anyone would find you incredibly beautiful.”

 

She blushed.  He smiled.

 

“What’s your name?”

 

She cast her eyes demurely towards the ground just as she realized that he wouldn’t see the response anyway.  “Cecilia.”

Flamingo Dream

Time for another Flash Fiction!

 

Today’s submission was inspired by Chuck Wendig’s Paint Color Title Scheme.  Of the ten possible colors listed, I chose “Flamingo Dream”!  I’m… not entirely sure what this is, but it was interesting to write after an emotionally draining day.  I am 99% sure I will be going back to this one and revising, as I think there’s a lot of good stuff here I might re-purpose after a night of good sleep.

 

In the meantime, please enjoy this rough, 20 minute (to write), 666 word story!

 

 

Flamingo Dream

Flamingos dream in black and white.  That was what the researchers said anyway, Ryan thought as he watched one of them nap in the sun.  But he couldn’t help but wonder how the researchers knew that was true.  Had they asked them?  Had they psychically wound their way into the flamingos’ dreams?  Had they experienced the richness of the world through a bird’s eye?

 

He doubted it.  Humans would probably never know, regardless of how many animals they studied in zoos.

 

Ryan enjoyed watching the zoo animals.  They always seemed so calm and content – all that they had to be was themselves, with no worries or fears.  Everything was provided for them: food, water, safety, interaction, family, friends…  It was probably a boring existence, but few of them seemed to mind.

 

He stuffed his hands into his pockets and sighed as he watched the graceful pink necks curve down and back up as the animals ate.  Sometimes he wished that his life could be that simple and easy.  But he couldn’t be what he wanted to be, or even what he was.  There was always something that someone else wanted of him: to be smarter, to work harder, to have more, to want more, to be… more.

 

Ryan wasn’t sure how much longer he would be able to withstand it.

 

One of the flamingos ambled closer, drawn by the shrieking glee of a small girl in purple standing near him.  She was holding a mittened hand out towards the birds and yelling “pink, pink!”

 

The flamingo sniffed curiously at her hand.  Finding nothing exciting there, it pulled its head back and vocalized at her, which sent her into another shriek of excited glee.  Ryan smiled at her carefree enjoyment of the sunny day that he couldn’t seem to appreciate himself.  Animals and children: both were equally free to just be themselves.

 

And here he was, only in the later half of his twenties, wondering what the point of it all was.  Wondering who he was trying to impress with his long hours at work and his fancy new car.  Wondering when, exactly, he had stopped enjoying the simpler things in life like sunshine or the laugher of a child.

 

Ryan eyed one of the flamingos suspiciously as it shook water casually off its wings.  It sometimes seemed like he was far more caged than these birds.

 

###

 

The elder flamingo woke from her doze to find the tall human was still there.  That one came by a lot, she knew, and stayed longer than any others.  He was nice enough, as humans went: he didn’t throw things at them or honk back or make fun of their long legs and he always watched them so intently that it almost felt like admiration.  He could come and go as he pleased, but he always seemed to visit them late in the afternoon, just before bedtime.  With the young ones around and the constant visits from strange humans, it was pleasant to have some rhythm to the day.

 

One of the babies raced awkwardly towards her, nearly stumbling over his growing legs.  A commotion at the other end of the pond needed her attention.  She sighed and began her stately walk towards the fighting teens, proud even in the face of such a commonplace squabble.

 

Fights were for the young: the ones that still had down and spirit.  The ones who still naively believed that there was a place better than the pond they inhabited and the nice humans in the beige clothes that brought them food and let them inside for the winter.  They were still young and foolish, she knew, and would change their mind as soon as the cold struck.

 

When she looked back, the tall human was gone.  No matter: she knew that he would come back, as he always did.

 

If Ryan had been able to ask what she had dreamt during her nap, she could have told him that she dreamt of nothing.

Solitary

Written for Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge “A Terrible Lie“.  This week, Chuck challenged us to write a short story where the conflict revolves around a terrible lie.

 

Here’s my humble submission:

 

“Red five to black six.”  The stranger’s blue eyes twinkled as she slid into the empty seat across from Emma.

 

The train tilted softly around a corner as Emma looked down at the cards in front of her.  Of course.  There it was.  She moved the cards around swiftly, pleased with herself.

 

“Thanks.”  She told the stranger, who smiled secretively and tucked a stray lock of dark hair behind one ear.  Her hands were beautifully manicured, Emma noticed, and she wore a single thick metal ring on her right hand.  “I’m Emma.”

 

“Paulette.”  Paulette’s hand was as soft as it looked, Emma realized as they shook.  “Are you traveling alone?”

 

With hardly a pause, Emma nodded.  “Just for a few hours.  I’m heading back home for Easter.”  The practiced words tumbled easily from her lips.  There was no home for her anymore.  Not really.

 

“I kind of figured that.  The cards, after all.”

 

Emma looked down at her game and smiled.  “Years ago, my mother told me that a game of solitaire was a surefire way to meet strangers.  Everyone has an opinion.”

 

“So they do.”

 

Silence fell between the seats as the train rocked again.  “How about you?”  Emma asked.  “Are you traveling with anyone?”

 

“No, I’m traveling on business.”

 

“What do you do?”  Emma admired Paulette’s crisp shirt and tailored pantsuit.

 

“Sales.”

 

“That sounds exciting.”

 

“It’s not really.  Honestly, it’s boring.  I thought I would be able to see the world and meet exciting new people, but for the most part all I see is the inside of trains and planes and hotel rooms.”

 

“Well, maybe this trip will offer you some excitement.”

 

Paulette smiled.  “I hope so.”

 

###

 

When Emma collected her things as the train slowed to a stop, it was with a strange feeling of reluctance.

 

“Well, it was nice meeting you.”  Paulette said softly, holding out one hand.  Without really thinking about it, Emma shook it, realizing that this was goodbye.

 

“Good luck with the job.  I hope things pick up.”

 

“Oh, I’m pretty sure they will.”

 

Before Emma could reply, Paulette had turned to leave, pulling a black, wheeled suitcase behind her.  Emma shook her head as she picked up her heavy duffel bag and carried it towards the exit.

 

A swift cab ride followed – not to her family home, but to a mid-range hotel not far from the train station.  As the car zipped along the dark streets, Emma silently berated herself.  She knew better than to get too chummy with strangers, even if the trip was boring.

 

What if she’d given herself away?

 

Her boss wouldn’t stand for that, she knew.  Moreover, she wouldn’t last long if she kept chatting away with strangers, spilling the beans.  Not when there were others like her out there, with similar agendas who wouldn’t mind one bit if some of the competition mysteriously disappeared.

 

At least the cover story about Easter had gone over well.  Besides, ignoring the risk, it had been a useful conversation: she knew where her target was staying.  She flipped open a small leather book she’d stashed in her purse, to reveal a small photograph of a dark haired woman with blue eyes.

 

###

 

When Emma arrived at her hotel room door, she felt strangely like she was being watched.  There was nobody around, though, and she slid the key card into the electronic lock carefully, trying to appear as though her heart wasn’t about to jump out of her chest.

 

She’d been jumpy like this ever since her boss had warned her that there might be a hit out on her.  Of course, that was ridiculous.  She was still new to the agency, out on her first solo assignment.  She wouldn’t be on anyone’s radar yet.

 

But when Emma pushed the door open the first thing that she saw was Paulette, harshly lit by a single lamp by the bed, standing in the middle of the hotel room.

Emma gasped.  “You…?”

 

Paulette’s hand raised until the gun was pointed squarely at Emma.  “I told you my work was about to become more exciting.”

Unbeatable

Originally posted on January 12, 2012, before the disaster.

 

Written for Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge “Song Shuffle Stories”.

 

Unbeatable

The prices were supposed to be unbeatable; that’s how Ken ended up with the sofa.

 

Hung over and dragged to the sale in protest, Ken had picked the first one that didn’t make him wince when he sat on it.  The price was definitely unbeatable – $100 for a brand new leather unit was a steal.  A damaged unit, they told him, perfectly good except for a few small flaws in the leather.  He didn’t care about a couple of scratches on the back, even if they did look disturbingly like fingernails, and it made his mother happy to watch him and his friends finally haul the dinged floral piece upstairs and out the door.

 

Ken should, perhaps, have wondered why the price had been so low.  Especially when it began to smell after a few days.  Certain that her slovenly son was the cause of the household stench, his mother watched imperiously as he scrubbed the entire basement, down to steam-cleaning the carpet.  The smell lingered, despite his best efforts and he eventually collapsed in an exhausted heap onto the offending furniture and began to doze in front of the television set.

 

As the darkness of sleep closed around him, Ken felt strangely warm and comfortable, as though he was surrounded in a soft, thick fabric.  He didn’t think much of it when the fabric covered his face, but when it began to squeeze him tightly he could do little except struggle in vain as it pulled him towards the ground.

 

###

 

When Ken woke with a start, everything was dark and quiet.  Almost too quiet – he could only barely hear the pre-season hockey game he had been watching.  He moved questing hands forward, but they bumped into a cloth wall, yielding yet strangely solid.  Ken wondered idly if he was still dreaming: the room seemed to have shrunk to a size that felt frighteningly like a coffin.

 

He called out, quietly at first, and then louder when he realized that there were people nearby, muffled voices that sounded like they were underwater.  He pushed at the walls around him, trying to claw his way through, kicking and screaming in frustration when no one responded, feeling only the unending encircling of the walls and the irregular scratches on them.

 

###

 

“Excuse me, sir, can you tell me more about this lot?”

 

“Yes ma’am.  This sofa, along with the television and the table, were taken from a repossessed house just outside of downtown.  The owner stopped making payments on it after her son disappeared.  They’re in excellent condition, as you can see, but the sofa has quite a few scratches on the back.”

 

“Is that why the starting point is so low?”

 

“Yes ma’am, although I don’t expect that it will stay that way.  This is an unbeatable deal.”

Quilted Memories

Originally posted January 23, 2012, before the disaster.

 

Written for Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge “Random Photo Story“.  The challenge was to generate six random Flickr images, pick three, and write a story.

Like a rebel, I used all six, and 704 words.

 

Quilted Memories

handmade quilt sits alone on a neatly made bed.  She’s left it there, unwilling to even fold it, lest it disturb the silence of the room.

 

The quilt reminds her of happier times.  Of better times.  Once upon a time, that quilt was hung across branches to make a fort.  It wrapped a red-haired dolly tenderly while a “mama” carried her around in her arms.  It was laid across the sand on a beach, supposedly to protect soft toes that were too busy trekking back and forth to the water with a little pink bucket to care.

 

That quilt hadn’t moved in nearly a year.

 

It had all started with a rash.  Probably from the sand at the beach, the doctor had said.  When it didn’t get better, another doctor diagnosed a food sensitivity, a third suggested changing laundry detergent.  When nothing helped, more tests were run and eventually came the dreadful day when they learned the truth.

 

Leukemia.  A word that they had heard of only in relation to other people was suddenly an intimate part of their daughter’s life.

 

It had all started then.  Doctor visits, trips to specialists, journeys to and from the hospital, each accompanied by a small, stuffed goat in overalls that was held and squeezed during every procedure, cuddled for comfort, and whispered secrets to late in the night.  She had been brave, their darling child, much braver than either of her parents had been.  Most days it was her who reassured them that everything would be alright.

 

Of course, it hadn’t been, but at four years old, you don’t really know that.

 

Still, it had been Audrey who had known first that she was going to be a big sister.  How she had known, neither of them could tell, but it seemed to give her some new strength and new hope.  They had encouraged that positive thinking, and it had broken their hearts, two months later, when they had to tell her that the baby was gone.

 

Audrey took a visible turn for the worse after that news, although the doctors were confident that it was only a coincidence that it had come so soon after the miscarriage.  Still, within only five months of losing the baby, they had been forced to say goodbye to their daughter.

 

Had it only been a year?  It had felt like much longer than that, although the medications  had messed up her perception of time.  She had tried at least four antidepressants and none of them worked, although she’d lied to her doctor to avoid having to experience the side effects of a fifth.

 

Her husband had know the truth, though.  He’d grown tired of it and left her two months ago.  Now she had nothing but the objects in this room to keep her company.  Just a blanket and a doll and a few bibs that she’d pulled out one glorious sunny afternoon when Audrey had been home from the hospital.

 

They had all been so excited then, back when the idea of a new baby was new and fresh.  Looking through Audrey’s old baby things had provided a brief moment of comfort and normalcy, before the shadow of the cancer had taken over their lives again.

 

That was the last sunny day she could remember.  The world had grown darker without Audrey in it.  And now she was all alone, with only a few stuffed animals for comfort.

 

She picked up the goat and clutched it tightly to her chest.  It still smelled faintly of chemicals and vomit, but mostly of Audrey.  She inhaled deeply, trying to remember the good times, the happy times, and not the dark sadness that she’d anticipated ever since the day of the diagnosis.

 

It was no use.  Her sweet angel was gone forever.

###

They found her body two weeks later, lying on the floor of the dusty children’s room, surrounded by dingy stuffed animals, a very dirty plastic bucket, and a few worn bibs.  Her body was wrapped in a small quilt that was drenched in the blood that had quite clearly seeped from the gash on her left arm.

 

She was smiling, for the first time in a year.

Bear 16

Originally posted January 14, 2012, before the disaster.

 

Written for a Friday Flash Fiction Challenge by Chuck Wendig: “Three Sentences for Bear 71″

 

I first learned of people three years ago when I discovered grain near the road that ran through my woods and back then they used to stop to watch me. Then, they called me a pest and brought me here, where I watch them through glass and wander an area from which there is no escape. They tell me I’m one of the lucky ones, but my cage tells me otherwise.

Friday Flash Fiction – 2011/09/16

Originally posted on January 5, 2012, before the disaster.

 

This is a short story written for a flash fiction challenge before I had a blog.  The challenge required the use of three words from a short list.  I chose: bishop, lollipop, and ivy.

 

 

The bishop slid forward. “Check.”

 

She sucked on the lollipop thoughtfully. The board was nearly empty; she was trapped in one corner.

 

He grinned and rested his elbows on the ivy-covered stone. “Well?”

 

It always ended this way: peril with no obvious escape.

“Just give up, Amy.” He advised gleefully. “You know you’ve been beaten.”

 

Clarity. Finally. There was only one move left.

 

“Checkmate.” She slid her queen forward.

 

He stared at the board in shock. She slipped the ring off her left hand and hung it over the neck of her queen.

 

“It’s over, Mike.”

The Fire of the Gods

Fire-in-Calgary-12-28-2005

My thanks to Chuck Wendig for this week’s prompt.  The goal?  Write a story (under 1,000 words) with the title “The Fire of the Gods”.  Here’s my submission (983 words).

The Fire of the Gods

 

Rachel’s mother always said that her father’s words were filled with the fire of the gods.

 

Rachel thought her mother was full of it.

 

She hadn’t always – in fact, when she was younger, she had listened raptly to every word he spoke.  She would run her hands through his silky hair as he read to her: he had a way unlike no other of making stories come alive.  As she would drift off to sleep, she used to wish that the stories would never cease.

 

Now all she wanted was for him to shut up.

 

As she grew older, she began to realize that her father’s words weren’t filled with fire, but with venom, spitting at anyone that dared cross him.  At ten she kept quiet, hoping not to provoke him.  At thirteen, she deliberately avoided him.  At sixteen, she began talking back, hoping to convince him that the young men that wandered the streets late at night weren’t out to steal them blind or kill them all.

 

Of course, he didn’t listen, and when discipline didn’t work he disowned her.  Now all that she could do was wander those very same streets, trying to scrounge together enough money to eat.

 

Not that she minded: anything was preferable to being back under his roof.

 

###

 

Rachel’s father’s words were filled with the fire of the gods.

 

Ethan hadn’t heard them himself, but all the men and most of the women had said something similar over the course of his life.  The elves idolized him and obeyed without question, turning viciously against anyone who dared cross him.  Over the last twenty years they had evicted many from the town: only a few humans were left and they kept their heads down as they scraped a living out of what they could grow in small rooftop gardens.

 

He was more interested in the daughter than the man.  Ethan had known her all his life, albeit from a distance.  She had never even looked his way, although it would have been difficult to see him in the brush or shadows he always hid in.  Of course, it had always been a wasted cause: he would never be allowed to speak with her.

 

It broke his heart to acknowledge that Rachel always looked sad.  He couldn’t remember ever seeing her smile, which was a pity, because she probably had a beautiful smile.  All he had ever wanted was to see it.

 

###

 

Daniel’s words filled the square with the fire of the gods.

 

He could see it, in the faces staring up at him.  He could sense it, in the energy of the crowd.  He could taste it as it flowed in burning waves off his tongue.

 

The humans had to leave his town; them and their filth.  “They have leveled the forest and polluted the water.  They have ruined the soil and sullied the meadows.  They make our children sick and our animals barren.”  He could see the crowd nodding with every beat of his speech.  He had them in his grip now.

 

“And when they grow tired of destroying our land, they come after us.  They steal from our women when their backs are turned.  They prey on our sons and turn them against us.  They kidnap our daughters for their own sick pleasures, returning them to us alive and broken, if at all.

 

“It is time for this travesty to end!  It is time for us to take back the land that is ours!  It is time we stood for what is right!  Are you with me?”

 

The square filled with the passionate yells of dozens of men, hefting axes and swords high into the air.  Daniel smiled as the noise died.  “Then, my friends, we should – ”

 

“I’m not.”  A single voice, uncertain but powerful, rang through the near-silent square.

 

The words died on Daniel’s lips.  “Rachel?”

 

Her clothes were tattered and her face was dirty, but she held her head high and looked him in the eyes when she spoke.  “Are you surprised to see me, Father?”

 

He turned his back on her.  “You’re dead to me.”

 

“You didn’t say that last week.”  She said to his back.  “Or the week before that, or the week before that.  It’s funny how I’m conveniently not dead when you need a warm body to care for your soul.  Or is it only your cock that I’m caring for every Friday?”

 

The crowd gasped.  Daniel stared fiercely at the stage, barely cognizant of the figure slowly creeping through the crowd as he willed the words to return to him.

 

“Why can’t you admit it, Father?  Are you ashamed of yourself?  You didn’t seem ashamed when I was thirteen.  Or ten.  You certainly weren’t ashamed when I was six, were you?  It was all a game to you then.”

 

He shook his head and opened his mouth to speak, but no words came.

 

“Or are you simply too afraid to admit that you’re no better than the men you demonize?  Good, kind men, who want nothing but a peaceful life?”

 

He remained mute as he stared at her, mouth slack.

 

She sighed.  “You disgust me.”

 

“Rachel, I…”

 

The end of the sentence never came.  The words left him for good as he gasped one last time, bending over the hilt of the dagger that was buried in his stomach.  Pain radiated from it to his chest and the air swirled with tiny dots of light as he gasped for air.

 

A shadow had come from the crowd for him.

 

He fell to the stage, struggling to focus his vision on the face of his once beloved daughter.

 

“I know you.”  He heard her say.  “You used to play on the other side of the park.”

 

“I was too afraid to say hello.  I’m Ethan.”

 

And as his eyes closed, Daniel thought he saw his daughter smile.